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View Full Version : Letting a bottle "open up" - Looking for thoughts



passthebourbon
07-21-2012, 10:34
Hi All,

I've been talking to a few retailers and reading a few things on this site concerning letting a bottle get some air into it, and wouldn't you know it, there tends to be some disagreement. I've heard many people on SB talk about opening up a bottle and letting air into it, however others have said they have lost bottles due to too much air.

I've read about bottles lasting years, and others lasting only several months before it "went bad." So I guess I am looking to the science guys on this one for some understanding. Could someone explain the effects air has on a bourbon. Also, is there a level within a standard bottle size that one needs to be concerned about, say, the last 15% or so?

Each fall, when I can make it down, I like to bring a bottle of bourbon to a buddy's farm during hunting season. Last year it was a bottle of Lot B, which was a huge hit, and this year I plan on bringing a bottle of Pappy 15 (plan on getting through each of them sequentially). Should I be opening these a few months in advance, and give myself a small pour, or would there not be a huge difference between doing that and simply opening it down there. Keep in mind the beer gets put down in short order, so while we are enjoying these immensely, it isn't the same as being at home with a Glen Cairn and a clean palate (but it's fun so who cares).

Anyway, thanks in advance and if there is another post out there that explains this please add it in.

Cheers,
Pete

CoMobourbon
07-21-2012, 11:06
I'll start with something generic and simple and let the more knowledgeable among us add more.

It depends on the mashbill. Wheaters, in my limited experience, always do well with open air time or air in the bottle. The effects of air time on rye bourbons is a little more of a mixed bag.

T Comp
07-21-2012, 11:15
Hi All,

I've been talking to a few retailers and reading a few things on this site concerning letting a bottle get some air into it, and wouldn't you know it, there tends to be some disagreement. I've heard many people on SB talk about opening up a bottle and letting air into it, however others have said they have lost bottles due to too much air.

I've read about bottles lasting years, and others lasting only several months before it "went bad." So I guess I am looking to the science guys on this one for some understanding. Could someone explain the effects air has on a bourbon. Also, is there a level within a standard bottle size that one needs to be concerned about, say, the last 15% or so?

Each fall, when I can make it down, I like to bring a bottle of bourbon to a buddy's farm during hunting season. Last year it was a bottle of Lot B, which was a huge hit, and this year I plan on bringing a bottle of Pappy 15 (plan on getting through each of them sequentially). Should I be opening these a few months in advance, and give myself a small pour, or would there not be a huge difference between doing that and simply opening it down there. Keep in mind the beer gets put down in short order, so while we are enjoying these immensely, it isn't the same as being at home with a Glen Cairn and a clean palate (but it's fun so who cares).

Anyway, thanks in advance and if there is another post out there that explains this please add it in.

Cheers,
Pete
I personally would not open a bottle in advance to just give it some air but that's me, who with my lead tongue :cool:, hardly (well maybe never) notices much variation from reasonable length air time. Not that I doubt those who do and of course there is minute oxidation occurring but I would like to see more true blind tasting on this whole phenomena. Kind of reminds me a little of the whole high end stereo electronics debates about when differences are discernible to the human ear with believers and skeptics. I've only had a few bottles of hundreds open that ever tasted truly oxidized and those had hardly anything left in them and had been open more than a year. I have recently started using Bloxygen Preserver on some of my more valuable and longer opened bottles...when I remember to, which is not always :cool:.

tigerlam92
07-21-2012, 15:11
For the PVW15, I do fine that they "open up" much better after a little while. It doesn't taste quite right or as good right at the moment I opened a fresh bottle. Perhaps, it's the harsh congeners (esters, acids, aldehydes and higher alcohols) that are escaping leaving the bottle more balance reducing the harsher burn.

Some people may not find a difference.

Recently, I brought a PVW15 (2009) to a lunch party with a group of friends. I didn't opened it up until I got there. But it didn't really matter, because most of them literally mixed it with coke!! Can't blamed them, they don't know how to enjoy fine bourbon but it was completely finished. I had thought they may appreciate this since the last time, they brought over 12 bottles of alcohol for a big table of 10 to a Chinese restaurant(!) and someone also brought a Blue label and they drank it neat or with ice.

cheers
--Hugh

smokinjoe
07-21-2012, 15:39
I've had a few laughs recently with a few members on this latest explosion of the concept of the "opening up" of bourbon. Particularly, when compared that for quite a long time prior to this, the opposite was the rage. It used to be, "Whiskey immediately and quickly" goes bad upon opening. The overly anal would determine their bottle "bad" if they didn't replace the cork within 2.4 seconds of pouring their drink! Heck, people were being instructed to throw out their bottles if they had been open over a month!! :lol: Now, it's "open the bottle, but don't dare drink for at least 3 months to allow the proper gobbledigook..."

Yes, I agree some off notes can be blown off with a little time exposed to air. Nothing a little pour, swirl, and quick prayer (no need to go through the entire Rosary here :)) before drinking won't clean up. :D

I get the greatest enjoyment from my whiskey when I don't over-think it. Actually, I get the most enjoyment from Life when I don't think at all...;)

MyOldKyDram
07-21-2012, 15:53
I never even put the cork (or screw cap) back in the bottle. I just loosely tent them with aluminum foil.

darylld911
07-21-2012, 16:14
I've had a few laughs recently with a few members on this latest explosion of the concept of the "opening up" of bourbon. Particularly, when compared that for quite a long time prior to this, the opposite was the rage. It used to be, "Whiskey immediately and quickly" goes bad upon opening. The overly anal would determine their bottle "bad" if they didn't replace the cork within 2.4 seconds of pouring their drink! Heck, people were being instructed to throw out their bottles if they had been open over a month!! :lol: Now, it's "open the bottle, but don't dare drink for at least 3 months to allow the proper gobbledigook..."

Yes, I agree some off notes can be blown off with a little time exposed to air. Nothing a little pour, swirl, and quick prayer (no need to go through the entire Rosary here :)) before drinking won't clean up. :D

I get the greatest enjoyment from my whiskey when I don't over-think it. Actually, I get the most enjoyment from Life when I don't think at all...;)

When I saw this thread, I was thinking of that lovely dusty Old Fitz you shared with us a few weeks ago. I never thought "Uck, we should have let this air out more". And that hadn't breathed in a very long time!!

I've never done any experimentation on airtime, but find that if as you're pouring your whiskey you try to mix it up a bit you can avoid having all of the heavier particles at the bottom (which might disproportionately make the last few ounces taste as they've "gone bad"). I just finished the last two ounces of some Elmer T Lee which I've had for probably 18 months, and it's been less than half full for at least a year - yet I thought ever drop was lovely. But I wouldn't argue with someone who has had a different experience.

WsmataU
07-21-2012, 16:16
I agree with the line of thinking that wheaters tend to "open up" over time a little more than others. That said I don't think there is a dramatic difference, just some subtle tones and flavors (it's not like comparing Beam to Pappy's). I was pleasantly surprised by a recent bottle of Hancock's Reserve that I opened and had a drink or two with a friend. I revisited it a month later and found it much more to my liking. Not very scientific I know, but that was my perception.

Tico
07-21-2012, 19:58
I find that most wheaters round out with a few weeks of air time

sutton
07-22-2012, 07:00
My guess would be it has to do with the unique chemistry in each bottle, its reduction/oxidation (redox) potential in science-speak, if you like.

Take something like a bottle of wine where this effect occurs much more rapidly - some are very "closed down" on opening, and need aeration through decanting and then maybe a couple of hours in the decanter before approaching. They then open up and are beautiful to drink for a period of time. Leave it that way for a few days and you start to sense acetaldehyde (rotten apples) or acetic acid (vinegar) - this is oxidation going too far.

Too much of a good thing ultimately can become a bad thing.

mosugoji64
07-22-2012, 08:55
I've had several bottles that seemed to change significantly after being open for a period of time. The flavors seem condensed and dull upon opening the bottle and seem to expand with aeration. I've always attributed this to some aspect of the bottling process. That said, I also acknowledge that there may be a psychological component at work wherein my expectations of a bottle change over time or a change in my palate enables me to tease out flavors that I missed before. As others have said, a blind tasting would be the only way to put the debate to rest. Most of my bottles are singles so a direct comparison isn't an option here.

Enoch
07-22-2012, 10:10
My wife has set up numerous blind taste test and I have yet to consistently pick a preference to aired or new open. Even open for a year or more and down to the last 1/4 bottle there is no consistent consensus as to which is better. Now it may be my palate is not as fine tuned as others.

Restaurant man
07-22-2012, 10:48
For me, oxygen does not play a role in how bourbon tastes. The alcohol level is way too high to be susceptible to the tarnishing properties of air. If brown liquor folks were worried about oxygen ruining (or changing) the taste of their bottle, the super duper high end cognac people would have solved this problem already. Some of those bottles have been open for 100+ years. All they worry about is evaporation

Flyfish
07-22-2012, 10:49
I agree with the line of thinking that wheaters tend to "open up" over time a little more than others. That said I don't think there is a dramatic difference, just some subtle tones and flavors (it's not like comparing Beam to Pappy's). I was pleasantly surprised by a recent bottle of Hancock's Reserve that I opened and had a drink or two with a friend. I revisited it a month later and found it much more to my liking. Not very scientific I know, but that was my perception.

I have had many bottles "improve" dramatically after they have been open a while and about half consumed. But I have never been able to determine if it was the whiskey that evolved or my palate that reached an accommodation with the bourbon.

JPBoston
07-22-2012, 12:12
A few months ago, I bought a bottle of EC12. The finish was VERY astringent, very off-putting. After a week or two being open, that astringent finish really tapered off and I enjoyed it much more.

But, that's the only time I've ever noticed a real, tangible difference as a bottle opens up. Being a relative noob, most of my bottles are used up within 2-3 weeks though, in order to make room for a new one. :)

passthebourbon
07-22-2012, 12:28
While I'm sure oxidation plays some role, I think for me the only differences in taste/enjoyment is due to my mood that day...and perhaps what I have eaten. If I buy and bottle and am really excited about it, but not really in a bourbon mood for whatever reason, maybe I think it is good, but not great. Then I reopen later on, when I am really feeling like a good pour, and it blows my mind. I don't know, I'm glad to hear people here have done some blind taste tests over time and have not noticed a discernible difference.

I think the special-ness of opening a new bottle with my friends will trump any added air time.

Young Blacksmith
07-22-2012, 18:56
I tend to lean towards the palate tune idea. Kind of like a box of cigars or pipe tobacco that is new to you. Your first go with it is fresh, no tasting marker to compare with. As things progress you can change your opinions drastically. I had a dusty JTS Brown that on first opening I though was decent. As I kept going back to it it was worse and worse, and I finally dumped it.

Old Charter is another. Upon first tasting it the OC profile was different, and hit me kind of weirdly. After a few bottles I can barely notice it now, and when I do it's only in the first few sips of the first pour. I've become accustomed to the taste, expect it, and look beyond it to see what else may be there.

WAINWRIGHT
07-22-2012, 19:07
I'll start with something generic and simple and let the more knowledgeable among us add more.

It depends on the mashbill. Wheaters, in my limited experience, always do well with open air time or air in the bottle. The effects of air time on rye bourbons is a little more of a mixed bag.

I tend to agree and think that the wheaters seem to become more full and round my only negative on oxidation is with the ultra aged ryes.I have seen the most dramatic change in Saz 18,not so much of a loss of flavor profile but the overall vibrance of the whiskey.

AaronWF
07-23-2012, 07:45
In my experience, wheaters as a group tend to open up over time. I thought the BT Pappy15 evolved somewhat dramatically after a few weeks and the fill level lower. I don't think I'd go so far as to open a bottle in advance of an event for the sole purpose of 'priming' it, but crazier things have been considered.

Four Roses 1B expressions can also change dramatically with air time. Maybe it has to do with the fact that they are not chill-filtered. While I do think our individual palates can be fluid, and a newly educated palate may take some time to 'come around' to a recently introduced flavor profile, I have experienced enough hard evidence that whiskey evolves in the bottle to not make a final judgement on something until I've gone through at least 1/4-1/2 of the bottle. There have been times where I struggled with the first 2/3 of a bottle only to find something sublime in those last 5-6 pours that I wished I had waited a few more weeks for when the bottle was still 1/2 full. (Ahem, FR 120th.)

sailor22
07-23-2012, 08:24
I tend to agree with the palate evolving or changing more than the whiskey does. I always attributed it to the power of suggestion. When I find a bottle that has been open a longtime and I haven't visited in a long time I usually expect it to be more subtle and complex that I remember it being.
That being said I have had some Bourbons that really did get worse as they got air time in the bottle but didn't show any of the cloudiness or oxidation.
Leave a pour in a glass overnight and it is not very inviting the next day. It goes nasty overnight, so too much air is clearly not a good thing.

Bmac
07-24-2012, 06:34
It definitely affects whiskey flavor. It's really easy.to test. Get.three glasses. In one glass pour a small measure. In another, pour a measure and drink it and leave the glass unwashed next.to the filled one. Go to bed. Wake up and pour a fresh measure into the third empty glass. Taste the difference between the fresh pour and last nights pour. Also nose the empty glass.


Then tell me air time doesnt make a difference ;)

T Comp
07-24-2012, 09:06
It definitely affects whiskey flavor. It's really easy.to test. Get.three glasses. In one glass pour a small measure. In another, pour a measure and drink it and leave the glass unwashed next.to the filled one. Go to bed. Wake up and pour a fresh measure into the third empty glass. Taste the difference between the fresh pour and last nights pour. Also nose the empty glass.


Then tell me air time doesnt make a difference ;)

Well I usually put the cap or cork back after pouring :grin:.

JayMonster
07-25-2012, 06:08
I think there are too many variables (most important being personal taste and experience), for this to be answered definitively or scientifically.Personally, like some others have said, I tend to find wheaters, in particular OWA, do better with some air time. But, I don't know that there is a scientific method or reason behind it. It just works for me so that is what I go with.

It isn't much different than people who will only cut their bourbon with branch water, or triple filtered reverse osmosis flown at mach 5 water. I have never seen (or more correctly tasted) the difference to make it worth me spending the money to do it that way, but that doesn't make them wrong (nor does it make me wrong), it is just preference.

As for it "going bad" in a short period of time... I suspect if you had a pretentious enough palate to find that it "turns bad" in a short period of time you would already know that.

Proper storage (not in direct sunlight, yada yada) is far more important to me than anything else. All the rest is simply part of the hobby and the enjoyment that goes with it.

darylld911
07-25-2012, 09:47
Wait a minute . . . they have TRIPLE filtered reverse osmosis flown at mach 5 water??? I can only get the double filtered garbage around here! ;)

Bmac
07-26-2012, 13:51
Wait a minute . . . they have TRIPLE filtered reverse osmosis flown at mach 5 water??? I can only get the double filtered garbage around here! ;)
LOL! I beleive my reverse osmosis system has three filters....but it doesn't flow at mach 5. I wish it did, it would the cheapest home-defense in the world!

JayMonster
07-26-2012, 15:34
LOL! I beleive my reverse osmosis system has three filters....but it doesn't flow at mach 5. I wish it did, it would the cheapest home-defense in the world!

Not flow at Mach 5, flown... As in a F-14 Tomcat to Seperate the impurities from the water that can only be accomplished at Hyper sonic speeds so as to not bruise the water. :-)

Bmac
07-26-2012, 16:08
Not flow at Mach 5, flown... As in a F-14 Tomcat to Seperate the impurities from the water that can only be accomplished at Hyper sonic speeds so as to not bruise the water. :-)
LOL!!! "So as not bruise the waterl" That made my day. Thanks :)

Enoch
07-27-2012, 07:02
I do find it interesting that when I fall asleep and leave a glass of unfinished whiskey out over night it does turn a milky cloudy color. I assume it is from air exposure because the temp does not change. I don't know if it effects the taste as I have not been willing to taste it.